The Preposterous Assumption of Cancel Culture in the Nigerian Music Space

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Cancelling an artist in Nigeria is merely a gimmick; by calling out someone and tagging them with the phrase “you’re cancelled,” you aren’t really canceling them. Rather, you are expressing your disapproval with their conduct.

Contrary to the Nigerian culture, the cancel culture is a real phenomenon from the West. Here, people actively follow through on their threats to boycott their favorite celebrities because of their unethical behaviour.

We are brought back to the period when R Kelly’s music career was put on hold due to his pervasive atrocities, and how, to this day, the artist remains nothing more than a scrap of paper from his people’s sheets. We are also brought back to the numerous criticisms of Kanye West, a Grammy winner who shows little to no concern for how his actions are perceived by others.

As we think back on these incidents, we see that the cancel culture flag for the Nigerian music industry is nothing more than a publicity ploy to support the continued success of our artists—after some condemnation, of course.

Because of the stanship fanatics—the fans of artists who, despite their faults and debauchery, nonetheless manage to overlook them and continue to support them no matter how serious their controversies—it is often difficult to wish to cancel an artist in Nigeria. Burna Boy has a long history of divisive opinions and defiant behavior, but his followers continue to support him despite how tainted most of it is.

Recently, the artist was criticized for staying silent during the 2023 presidential elections and yet profiteering off of music that bolstered the opposition to Nigeria’s corrupt government. Critics pointed out his contradictory actions and statements, but a large number of Burna Boy fans chose to ignore it. How then can the cancel culture be viable when the fandom for a public figure is more than one might think?

Being given the “cancelled” tag in Nigeria means you were a part of a particularly unpleasant incident. For the Nigerian music industry, or any industry for that matter, bad publicity is always beneficial. We’ve seen cases where musicians are embroiled in scandals and the negative media somehow pushes them over the edge—getting significant attention and views on their crafts. Even though scandals involving artists like Oxlade and Tiwa Savage were pretty awful at the time they occurred, they ultimately contributed to such a massive breakout. After Oxlade received harsh criticism from the public, the artist went on to release strong songs that, to put it simply, “brainwashed” Nigerians of their memories. The singer released Ku Lo Sa, Want You and has since been on a leading role without making any allusions to his prior incident.

On the other hand, Tiwa Savage worked with Tecno Mobile and even utilized her scandal to produce Loaded, one of Nigeria’s top songs of November 2022, in which she and Asake were both featured. It’s fair to conclude that effective public relations management was the only thing that kept these crises at bay.

It was easy to observe the spike in their names’ notoriety on social media and how traditional media outlets, like radio and television, profited from this, giving them much-needed airtime and screen time despite their scandal.

Nigerians don’t truly “cancel” artists; instead, there is a delayed type of criticism of their personalities and controversies that is expressed on the internet, along with an eternity of oblivion following the release of a new project or work — we see the case of Burna Boy who was accused of being involved in a shoot just a few weeks prior to the release of his sixth studio album, Love, Damini, but as soon as the album started getting airplay, the controversy surrounding the artist subsided, and it seemed as though he had never been the subject of a Twitter “dragging” in the first place.

The cancel culture in Nigeria can be described as “dragging” since we lack the temerity to desire to oust artists from the music scene; We think that we can use the phrase “the dragging culture” to describe our culture, as the harm that a Twitter dragging can cause is comparable to the hurt which a cancel tag can cause an artist.

You can’t totally rely on utilizing the cancel culture as a tool to hold artists accountable because, albeit infrequently, we prevalently witness the ‘profound’ works with which they have acknowledged taking responsibility for their own actions.

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